A master cinematographer of the 1960s, Nicolas Roeg emerged at the start of the next decade as the only British art-house director (there weren’t that many) whose films had commercial crossover appeal. In an unequaled run, he made “Performance” (1970; co-directed with Donald Cammell), “Walkabout” (1971), “Don’t Look Now” (1973), “The Man Who Fell to Earth” (1976), “Bad Timing” (1980), and “Eureka” (1983).
Later works such as “Insignificance” (1985) and “Track 29” (1988) were more about their writers (Terry Johnson and Dennis Potter respectively) than Roeg. Yet their kaleidoscopic approach to time and memory and their disassembling of linear time still made them characteristically Roegian. He is the closest Britain has ever had to an Alain Resnais or Jacques Rivette.
Although an affable conversationalist, Roeg is not the kind of filmmaker who is persuaded to interpret his films in any depth during an interview. He will seldom be drawn on meanings, psychological explanations, or metaphors, preferring to show rather than to tell. Instead, he offers anecdotes, cryptic asides, and beguiling evasions. Perhaps he has been saving some analysis for his autobiography, “The World Is Ever Changing,” which Faber and Faber is publishing in the UK on July 17.
Or perhaps not. According to Jason Solomons in the Observer newspaper, the book is “part memoir, part history of British film-making, and part blueprint for the future.” Referring to Roeg’s observations, Solomons asks rhetorically, “Did you know that De Lane Lea screening studio in Dean Street was named after a Major William de Lane Lea, who dubbed French movies? That [Harold] Pinter’s pauses really came from Hollywood movies, a sort of theatrical version of the cut away?”
It also contains stories about Pinter, Laurence Olivier, Roger Corman, Richard Lester, Jacob Epstein, Terence Stamp, Julie Christie, David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Art Garfunkel, and Roeg’s ex-wife Theresa Russell, who starred in five of his films and his segment of “Aria.”
The book reveals, writes Solomons, “how a botched reverse-charge phone call scuppered him ever working with Marlon Brando.”
“The World Is Ever Changing” (a line from “The Man Who Fell to Earth”) is being published not only in paperbook and hardback, but as an e-book (available July 16) complete with clips from Roeg’s films and a film of him at home in Notting Hill.
“They had to show me how the iPad works, but once you get the hang of it, it’s a wonder how we ever wrote books before,” Roeg told Solomons. “I love this new way. I’ve always loved the future. But I must say the future changes a lot quicker than it used to. An era used to last thirty or forty years – now we’re lucky if it’s five.”
Now 84, Roeg expressed regret about the fact that he won’t be able to partake in the future evolution of film. “I got rather depressed writing the final chapters, which are about looking forward. I realized I’ve spent all my life creating a past. I know now, though, that I shall miss so much when I go.”